Take the Follies for what they are: A booze binge
Talking Biz News annually asks an anonymous business journalist attending the Financial Follies to write a critique of the evening’s festivities. Here is this year’s review:
The Financial Follies leaves several boxes unchecked.
It is not a networking event — though the flaks justify it as such. It is not a luxurious event — though it may appear so on the surface.
The annual gathering of flaks, financial journalists and those who pretend to be to gain entry is a booze binge, and I loved it.
I had heard horror stories of the Follies of course, many of them from earlier reviews on Talking Biz News. My predecessors whine about the cost, the food, the apparently surprising lack of opulence.
They held incorrect standards, and they didn’t game the system.
I arrived at the New York Hilton in Midtown around 6:15 p.m. and skipped the official cocktail hour entirely. It’s a cash bar and a waste of time.
Instead, my colleagues and I jumped between pre-parties hosted by PR firm Vested and USAA — both in the building, both open bar. Vested hosted in the hotel’s minus5 ice bar, which was a fun gimmick, and USAA put out an impressive spread of food.
By the time formal dinner started in the grand ballroom at 7:30 p.m., I had spoken to maybe two people that I didn’t previously know from work or school, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
I was pleasantly surprised upon walking into the ballroom to see each seat had been served a salad of arugula, poached pear, pomegranate seeds and a ball of burrata cheese that could easily have cost $20 on its own. I think I yelled about the burrata — the night was only getting better.
After a lap or two to scope out to the room I found my table with an asset management firm. I accidentally told them almost immediately that my beat is not at all related to their business and that I had scammed a ticket from a friend. They didn’t seem to care.
I accepted their offer for wine and kept the bottle close.
As the skits started, my jaw hit the floor. Performers in skin-tone leotards and green wigs sang a parody of Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” with the tweaked chorus of, “I love cheap bills.”
I felt sure these were Broadway rejects who’d fallen so far in their performing careers that they’d booked a gig at the Financial Follies. I soon learned they were members of the financial journalism industry and apparently indifferent to their colleagues’ opinion of them.
I repeatedly interrupted a perfectly pleasant round of small talk with the reporter next to me to crane my neck toward the stage in disbelief of the production.
Still, the skits were quick and not disruptive of conversation if you can speak from your diaphragm.
I should say the food was fine, perfectly pleasant to eat, but nothing to write home about. I don’t eat meat and declined the steak that was served with spinach and polenta. They offered me salmon or pasta as a substitute, but my vegetarian colleague at another table, I’m told, was not afforded the same courtesy and never got food. (A dangerous step during a booze binge.)
I met the woman who had actually invited me to join the firm’s table and within mere minutes she was asking my opinion on what substance would win out if a person consumed both pain killers and cocaine — “would you be mellow or ready to party?”
And like that, we had entered the portion of the night that every boss would like to forget.
Flaks were wasted. I drunkenly hugged a senior-aged man from my office and then worried if that was too friendly for five minutes. I told the firm that had invited me I would email this week to follow up on possible coverage — I will not.
As the wait staff cleared our dessert plates, everyone abandoned their PR dates and found the people they actually wanted to talk to. I took another lap, found some more people to insincerely say hi to, and started clearing the booze of other tables — no drop left behind.
We corralled our group and moved across the street to Old Castle Pub and Restaurant for the after party. Another open bar — I don’t even know who hosted this time so I can’t mentally thank a firm for the free drinks.
I watched the party thin out as friends and colleagues hit their limits, and I left myself around 1 a.m.
All included I spent $11 throughout the night — $5 at coat check and $6 for an Uber pool home. I’ve never spent a boozy night in NYC for so cheap.
I think my friends prepared me well for the Follies — their insights and cautionary tales from past years set my expectations appropriately and revealed the true nature of the event. It’s an opportunity for journalists who rightfully take themselves and their work very seriously to expense a night of fun.
If you know what you’re getting into, it’s a hell of a time.